Day 0: How I got here
A recap of what led me to Tech Sales
I never imagined working as a Sales Development Representative but that is what I will be as of today, September 7th, 2021. Let me catch you up to speed before Day 1
0 to Leaving H-Town
I was born in Houston, Texas to two Pakistani Muslim Immigrants who came in the late 1980s. Growing up my mother wanted me to become a Doctor (cliche I know) but I never took to it. While I excelled in math and science much more than I did in other subjects, Medicine never fascinated me. I even wanted to be a chef at one point but I was continuously told that wasn’t a feasible career path so I kept it a hobby. As I navigated the concrete-filled, suburb sprawling, freeway-focused landscape of Houston, Texas, I grew to love the built environment. I saw these massive structures and wondered who was behind it all. In High School, I started drafting classes as my brother had done the same and I wanted to be like him. He was going into architecture and shared his love for cities and urbanism with me and that turned me towards Civil Engineering. It was a natural progression of the material I was learning in drafting and answered my question of how I could be a part of creating the built environment. After graduation, I accepted a full ride to the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, IL.
I moved not just cities but states at the age of 18 to attend Illinois Tech over the University of Texas and I can say without any regret that it was the best day of my life. I was given opportunities to engage with faculty, fellow classmates, and clubs at an intimate level and experienced some of the best years of my life. It was an instrumental time in developing who I am today. While at Illinois Tech I did a Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering and Masters in Transportation Engineering in 4.5 years through the school’s Co-Terminal program. I also did some classes in Computer science because I was pursuing a minor in CS for a bit (See “Why Tech” below).
This is also the time when I truly became an Urbanist. What I mean by that is while the built environment fascinates me, I started to learn about the benefits of various types of infrastructure. In High School, I fell in love with cities and trains and during college, my love and knowledge of them grew even more. I realized the folly of suburban sprawl, the damaging effects of the highway system, the impracticality of building around cars, and how our cities should be built around humans but are not. I mastered in Transportation Engineering with a focus on public transportation because I wanted to help combat this.
(Book Rec: Everyone should read The Death and Life of Great American Cities)
My Civil Engineer Career
From graduation in December of 2015 to the Summer of 2021, I was a Civil Engineer at various companies. I worked at companies ranging from 2 people to 600 people and from in the office to in the field and on public and private projects. My point being, I saw the wide breadth of the industry, and after 5.5 years I knew…I didn’t want to be in the industry any longer. I realized that at the engineering level I wasn’t helping shift the needle in any meaningful capacity. The decision made about cities, cars, public transit, urbanism, etc is done at a higher policy level and by politicians. Civil Engineers can help advocate but most of the time the decision is made by the time the work starts. As well I saw the industry as slow-paced and with a lack of growth and development. Alhamdulilah My salary after 5.5 years was $72,000. I don’t say this out of bragging but I am a firm advocate of open and transparent pay policies and sharing salary info to give back power to the workers of the world. But I could see myself working for another 10 years and not moving up much either as the industry doesn’t have a high range. So I realized it was time to leave the industry and make a major shift. But this shift started back in the summer of 2020.
August 2020 I start studying for the GMAT. It is lockdown and prime time to study, take the GMAT, and apply for MBA. Well not actually since it was the hardest cycle in years but I didn’t know that till later. I spent 12 weeks studying. I spent M-F 3 hours every day after work and then every Saturday I took a practice test and Sunday’s I debriefed and prepped for the week. I took 9 practice and 3 actual exams and got a final score of 730. With this being the average/median score of the top 15 programs I decided to aim high. I applied to Harvard, MIT, Northwestern, UChicago, UMich, and Duke in January 2021. I got interviews with UChicago, Northwestern, and Duke. Duke and UChicago waitlisted me and that was that. From August 2020 to May 2021, I spent most of my free time working on getting into a top MBA program and it didn’t work out. So I decided I needed to take the next step and break into tech on my own.
One of the top questions I had to answer in MBA Essays, Job interviews, and conversations with friends and family was Why Tech? Why after leaving my hometown and state for college to study civil engineering, mastering in transportation engineering, and working for 5.5 years as a civil engineer, was I pursuing the tech industry? It is pretty simple, to be honest. I have always had a passion for tech. I try to stay up to date with everything tech ranging from hardware to software to the industry itself. Sites like TheVerge, TechCrunch, and HackerNews are daily visits as I get my news. I took CS classes in HS and college and have even done some side projects here and there. But at some point in college, I decided to focus on my Civil degree and keep Tech as a passion. Now I realize I don’t need to. Tech is a fast-paced and high-growth industry filled with opportunities beyond programming and I can be a part of it somehow. That initially led me to the MBA path which I saw as a fast and efficient way into a tech company at a position that was reflective of my working time. But since that didn’t work I had to find other ways into the industry.
So MBA didn’t work and I know I wanted to be in tech. What do I do? I “networked”. I hate this term but really it is very accurate. I messaged every single friend of mine in the tech industry whether they were a programmer, product manager, salesperson, etc. I did the same with my LinkedIn connections and anyone from college or HS that I could find in Tech. I let them know that I was interested in the tech field and was looking for guidance on how to break into it. They connected me with colleagues and friends and whoever they knew until I was having coffee chats regularly. I would ask about their journey, advice on getting into tech, what roles should I target, help on tailoring my resume, referrals to their company, etc etc. This went for about a month until a friend let me know about nextplay.io. He knew one of the instructors and vouched for him so I looked more into it and applied. This was 2 weeks before the first cohort was about to start in mid-June. Thankfully I got the interview and was accepted into the program. It was a 10-week fellowship with class time, assignments, on hands learning, and time with mentors that get non-tech, non-sales professionals ready for B2B SaaS Tech Sales. It was completely remote and after work hours so worked perfectly for me as I had the weekday evenings free. After we spent 8-9 weeks learning about what it takes to be a Sales Development Representative at a Tech company our instructors and mentors helped prep us for getting a job. They worked with us on resume editing, interviewing, applying, connecting us to people in the industry, and much, much more. I can confidently say I would not have my new job without the fellowship and the experience, preparation, and connections they provided.
The 2 Prongs to job hunting
There are 2 methods of Job Hunting that I have seen success with. The first is back to that method of “Networking”. The second is apply, apply, apply. Both yielded results for me in the form of making it past the application. I applied to 40 positions. I got the initial recruiter interview at 15 of those companies. I would say over half I made it past the application because I had networked with someone at the company. Whether it was a friend who referred me or a LinkedIn connection that I talked to about the position or someone from the company posting on a slack group and I DM’d them and they sent my resume internally. Out of the 15 companies I interviewed with I moved beyond the recruiter interview to 12 of them. From there I was rejected by 6 of them and out of the remaining 6 I received offers from 3 and canceled the interviews with the other 3 once I accepted the offer with my new job. I have broken down the 3 offers and how I got to them below.
(Once again, this section is not for bragging but because I believe in open and transparent workspaces make for better environments and put power in the hands of workers)
While I was applying to various companies I connected with a friend from high school who was in a sales position at Procore, a leading construction management software company. He informed me they were going to be in person in Austin so it wasn’t feasible for me to apply as I was not looking to leave Chicagoland. But a couple of days later he connected me with the Sales Lead at a startup survey drone company called TraceAir. The Sales lead was interested in my background as a Civil Engineer and liked what he heard when he talked with me so I was moved forward in the application process. Eventually, I made it through all the rounds and the final exercise with the CEO and was offered a role above an SDR on Wednesday, September 1st. This position had a base pay of 60K with a variable of 60K coming to an OTE of 120K with uncapped commission. Now while this seems better on paper than the other two, I didn’t feel good about it. I was told someone else was chosen for the open SDR position and that the sales lead wanted to open this position to me based on my background and that I would require some extra training. I felt like I would always be proving my worth and that wasn’t the type of start I wanted to have. I wanted a company where I felt like everyone on my team wanted me to be there. Plus I realized as well that I needed that clean break from Civil and going into a construction tech company and talking to land developers and engineers all day wouldn’t provide it. So I called them and rejected the offer once I had accepted my new offer.
Workday is a massive corporate HR/Admin cloud SaaS company that is a juggernaut in the industry. I have a friend who works at Workday so they referred me and I applied to an SDR position using their referral link. This definitely was a major reason I even got an initial interview as many of these bigger companies it is hard to even hear a response. I got a referral for Google and they rejected me without an interview for a position but even them letting me know was only guaranteed because I had the referral. But it worked out with Workday and I progressed through the rounds until my final interview on September 1st where I talked with 3 different Sales Managers over 2 hours. Afterward, they told me they would get back to me in the next week. I then received a call 2 hours later with an offer of 52K base and a variable of 28K for an OTE of 80K. I emailed them the next day and was able to negotiate them to 58K base with a variable of 32K for an OTE of 90K.
Replicated is a startup software company that helps provide easy deployment of container applications across any type of server and architecture. They’re around 100 people and just raised their Series C in July. I was in the RevGenius slack when I saw someone post about open SDR positions at Replicated. I messaged the employee and sent my resume over to them. He told me to apply and he would internally refer me. I got the initial recruiter interview on August 18th after which I was moved to the next stage for an interview with the sales lead on Friday, August 27th. During that call is when he told me they hoped to start their last cohort of 2021 on September 7th which was in 10 days. That wasb’t a lot of time but he worked with me to get the applications and interviews required in their hiring process done within 6 days and I was given an offer on Wed, September 1st. I would come in at SDR Level 2 with a base pay of 65K and a variable of 30K for an OTE of 95K.
Replicated vs Workday
This has been one of the toughest decisions I have had to make recently and I basically had 24 hours to make it. Both Workday and Replicated wanted an answer before the long weekend as Replicated wanted me to start right after and Workday wanted a start date of mid-September and needed to get the process going. I talked with friends, family, connections I had at both companies, my mentors at nextplay, and anyone else I could. To be honest, I was blessed with two amazing offers and the comp packages were basically the same. It came down to the subjective aspects of the positions. Startup vs Corporate. Workday is a massive company with thousands of employees. I would have been taken care of, given support, had training for any future paths I wanted to pursue, and be set in a sense for the future as Workday on a resume is gold like many big tech companies. Replicated though was a startup with fresh funding and a growing sales team. The Sales lead had been hired this year and was growing the team to his vision and was very invested in me. He was texting me throughout the interview process with reminders and positive remarks. I could feel that he was invested in me and that he really wanted me to join. We had multiple talks after I was offered about the company, the position, the training I would have (given my lack of experience), the support I may need, etc etc. He was completely understanding and open and I felt like that was what I need right now. An environment where I could learn a lot in a short time, really apply that and excel, and grow rapidly within the company and industry.
That is why on September 2nd, 2021 I accepted an offer from Replicated as a Sales Development Representative to start on September 7th, 2021. I hope you enjoyed this recap and will join me on my journey into the tech world.
But what about your current company…
So yes I am actually still at my old job for this week as well. During m conversation with Replicated, they said the first week wouldn’t be very intense and they would be ok with me doing both vs starting me later and separate from the cohort. So I gave one week's notice on September 2nd and let them know the situation. This week will definitely be a crazy one but I am excited for what’s to come!
First, All thanks go to the all providing and all merciful, Allah (SWT). There are plenty of people to thank but as you may have noticed I tried not including any names in this post as I did not have the time to ask permission from each one and do not feel comfortable sharing names unless I do. But I do want to thank my family, my friends, and everyone who helped me on this long but short in a way journey into the tech world. I especially want to thank my wife for not having a husband for most of the weeknights of the past years as I have been studying or applying and I want to thank my parents for all the love and support they give me no matter what I pursue.